Into the Darkness

Osama bin Laden is dead, killed by U.S. Special Forces. The country is jubilant. President Obama, in his address announcing the killing, entered the operation into the lore of triumphalism that has been a part of the American ethos for its entire history. It was our can-do spirit, our ceaseless pursuit of greatness, that guaranteed success. It was a great moment in American history.

Obama was not alone in touting the death of Osama bin Laden as a pivotal point in our history, one to be celebrated. Talking heads and columnists across the news media were mostly uniform in their exhortations of joy and their praise for the might of the United States.

Down on the streets, thousands of people broke out into spontaneous, late-night celebrations in Washington, D.C., New York City, and elsewhere.

I watched the celebrations on the news on Sunday night, and read the columns on Monday, and I feel nothing of greatness about the death of that man. He initiated an era of American and world history that has resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 people, mostly civilians, and has taken the United States into a very dark place from which it might never fully emerge.

Bin Laden had as much effect on determining the future direction of the United States as any native politician since the days of our founding, but the path he laid out for us has been one of destruction, death, fear, torture, and the whittling away of our freedoms. We are less American because of him. Now that he’s dead, nothing changes. The disfigurement remains.

I can’t celebrate bin Laden’s death because finding joy in such an act disgusts me. Dancing in the streets celebrating a killing, even the killing of such a horrible man, is an act of savagery that is not worthy of an enlightened civilization. I can’t celebrate bin Laden’s death because we had to crawl into the abyss with him to get him. And now we can’t get out.

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